Ministers under fire as they blame a ‘rogue marker’ for Sats test leak

Parents protesting against controversial Sats tests.
Parents protesting against controversial Sats tests.
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THE GOVERNMENT has blamed a “rogue marker” for leaking a test paper which had been mistakenly uploaded to an exam board website in the latest controversy over primary school Sats.

The Department for Education claimed that the Sats tests are being sabotaged in an “active campaign” by individuals opposed to Government reforms.

And ministers have launched an investigation to identify who is responsible for the leak.

However opposition MPs and teaching unions have said the latest breach is undermining parents and teachers confidence’ in the assessment system.

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It follows the recent leak of a key stage one spelling, punctuation and grammar test and controversy about the difficulty of a reading test taken by ten and 11-year-olds.

Some teachers and parents have voiced their anger at a primary school test that was so tough it left children in tears.

Shadow education secretary Lucy Powell called for an emergency review of the primary assessment system in light of the most recent breach and concerns.

“The possibility that education ministers have compromised the SATs Key Stage Two spelling and grammar test coming, as it does, hot on the heels of their cancellation of the Key Stage One spelling and grammar test due to incompetence, calls into question the ability of ministers in the department to properly manage our education system. This news undermines the validity of the SATs spelling and grammar test children are sitting today and is a body blow to parent and teacher confidence in the primary assessment system.”

The answers to the Key Stage Two grammar, punctuation and spelling test appeared on a website for the Pearson exam board yesterday evening, where they remained in a password-protected area for several hours before being removed.

Schools Minister Nick Gibb told the Commons that the paper had been “mistakenly uploaded”, but that someone with access to the secure site had then leaked it to the media.

“Pearson were informed that the test was on their site by markers during the course of the evening and they removed the material from the site at 9.01pm,” he said.

“The department was separately alerted to the situation at around 9.30pm by the media and immediately made contact with Pearson to establish the facts.

“During the short period that the materials were live, Pearson’s records show that 93 markers, all with the appropriate clearance, accessed the material.”

Mr Gibb insisted that the only people with access to the site are contracted markers, all with a contractual obligation not to share sensitive information.

Pearson has been asked to conduct an investigation into the situation, the minister added.

“First, how did the material come to be uploaded onto the secure site in error? This was clearly a mistake which should not have been possible,” he told MPs.

“Second, I have asked that all records are examined and all information interrogated so that the culprit who leaked this sensitive information can be identified.”

The leak was not judged to be significant enough to cancel Tuesday’s test, which was taken by more than half a million Year Six children across the country on Tuesday .

A DfE source said: “While the test doesn’t appear to have leaked into the public domain and can go ahead, a rogue marker did attempt to leak the test’s contents.

“It is clear there is now an active campaign by those people opposed to our reforms to undermine these tests and our attempts to raise standards.”

A Pearson spokesman said it regretted that the wrong paper had been temporarily uploaded on to its secure website.

“We apologise to schools, teachers, parents and pupils for this error at this sensitive time. We are conducting an investigation to make sure it cannot happen again. As part of this investigation, we will seek to find out which individual passed this information into the public domain, in breach of their commitments to us and their fellow markers.”

He added: “A small number of markers accessed the paper, although as contracted markers they are bound by confidentiality and have a duty not to share any papers.

“We do not have any evidence that the content of the paper has been compromised and it is important that the test should go ahead, not least as it follows so much hard work by teachers and pupils.”

It is the second time a paper has been published online in recent weeks, and comes amid concerns about this year’s SATs papers.

Teachers and parents have suggested that the reading test taken by youngsters on Monday was so difficult it risked demoralising pupils.

Concerns were shared on websites including Facebook and a Times Educational Supplement (TES) forum.

One teacher branded the test “ridiculous” and “divisive” as the advanced questions also risked alienating children whose parents did not support their education at home, or those for whom English is not their first language.

Parents said their children struggled to answer questions or finish the test after doing well in previous years.

Christine Blower, general secretary of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) said the latest leak was a “disaster” for children, schools and teachers.

Chris Keates, general secretary of the NASUWT teaching union, said: “Given the high stakes nature of the testing for teachers and school leaders, if the integrity of the tests cannot be guaranteed then it is absolutely clear that they cannot be used to judge the performance of schools.”